From Earth to the Moon

It is interesting to watch the earth as the Apollo Astronauts go into Earth orbit, and then thrust toward the moon. This lovely blue globe we live on has much to teach us as we move into space so that we can observe the entire ball. Then let us be off!

Typical Apollo CrewClick to enlarge

For the Apollo program, the astronauts had to be highly trained, very experienced pilots, and skilled in several technical categories. Operating the Command module and the Lunar module are complex tasks. Much of the time it is flying automatically, but in some situations survival depends on rapid and correct responses.

Liftoff!Click to enlarge

This Apollo/Saturn 5 spacecraft is huge. The large 1st stage has the power to get the rest of the craft high in the air and moving fast. The second stage will finish propelling it into orbit around earth. Here are some of the things you can see from earth orbit.

San Francisco bayClick to enlarge

San Francisco, seen from orbit, is mostly gray, which is typical of large cities. A number of cities and towns are spread around the bay, and leaking over the hills. Clouds are white, water is mostly blue, forests are dark green, and desert is tan. Mountains are often forested, so they stand out dark green.

Houston Galveston areaClick to enlarge

In the west, haze is not very thick, and mountains far distant can be seen clearly. But this view of southern Texas shows much haze which makes details hard to discern. Houston can be seen near the center of the picture, with forests north and Galveston bay south. Houston spreads far, and the typical gray of cities can be seen stretching down to Galveston. The Gulf of Mexico is a muddy blue, and where rivers empty into the Gulf the muddy water can be seen. "Big Muddy", the Mississippi river, pours much mud into the Gulf under the clouds to the East, which is responsible for much of the mud in the Gulf. Also a few miles East, nearly to the clouds, can be seen smoke from a fire, being pushed SSW over the Gulf.

Florida, CarribeanClick to enlarge

The haze is thicker as the humidity is higher over Florida. The shallow water around the Bahama Islands shows up as a lighter blue than the deeper ocean water around it. Cuba and several Carribean Islands can be seen. The cloud formations can indicate weather under them.

Western North AmericaClick to enlarge

The Apollo-Saturn craft is launched toward the east to take advantage of the rotation of the earth, which is about 1000 MPH. In earth orbit, it takes about 90 minutes to make one circle of the Earth. The Saturn 5 third stage is fired to inject the Apollo craft into moon orbit, so that as it gets further away from the earth more can be seen. In this view, most of the North American continent can be seen. The Apollo is now entering the orbit to the moon, so that it is no longer is going around the world, but the earth is rotating under the Apollo. From this point in the flight, the Earth will be turning East under the Apollo.

Between Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountain range can be seen the gray indicating Salt Lake City, and Provo a little south. The Uintah Mountains run East and West, and more mountains go South East, making a "K" in the eastern part of Utah. Utah can be identified at a greater distance by this unique signature. East of the "K" is a patch of green mountains, just West of Denver. North of Utah is the patch of mountains in Idaho/Wyoming/Washington that form a green patch also, and East of there begins the great plains.

LA, Mexico, DFWClick to enlarge

Mexico is mostly dry, so shows up brown. Baha California is a distinctive feature that identifies Western North America. Los Angeles, in the upper left corner, can be see with the typical gray color of cities, even though it is getting small. Note the cloud formation South of Los Angeles, as it can be seen in other pictures. On the extreme Eastern part of this photo, a little down from the top, can be seen the gray of a city complex, Dallas-Fort Worth.

N America, AfricaClick to enlarge

Much further away from Earth, the bottom part of the picture is cut off by the spacecraft window. Africa and Spain can be seen at the far right, Washington DC can be identified by the Chesapeake Bay, and the Great Lakes are a little North of there. Los Angeles can be found by noting the cloud formation, and Utah is shown by the faint "K" of the mountains there.

N America, PacificClick to enlarge

Now the Apollo is far enough away that the entire world can be seen. The parts of North America that show through the clouds can be identified by Baha California, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains just inland from Sacramento Valley. The clouds over the country remain the same as in the previous pictures. Note the distinctive cloud formation just off the California coast, and also the long bright cloud across the South Pacific.

Pacific, AustraliaClick to enlarge

As the Earth continues to rotate, Australia comes into view. North America shows up by the distinctive cloud formation. Any parts of Asia that might be identified are covered by clouds.

Africa, AsiaClick to enlarge

The Sahara desert in Africa is free of clouds, and very distinctive. SW Africa is also desert, the Kalahari. The Arabian Peninsula, and East to Iran and into Afghanistan show up well, but the Himalaya mountains have clouds. Madagascar on the East side of Africa shows up, as does the Mediterranean. Europe is difficult to pick out.

Africa, largerClick to enlarge

This is the same picture as the previous one, a little bigger and sharper. The Equator is right in the middle of the photo, below the bulge of Africa. Note that much of the right side of the picture is in shadow. If you draw a line between the place the shadow begins on the North and South sides of the Earth, perpendicular to that line across the center of the Earth is where the sun is shining from. This picture was taken in the summer, July I think, when the sun is far North.

S Atlantic, SummerClick to enlarge

The equator crosses South America above the bulge of Brazil. The sun here can be seen to be North. The West coast of South America is dry, with the high, green Andes just East of there. Africa and Spain show up well.

S Atlantic, WinterClick to enlarge

The same view in winter shows the North Pole in darkness, while the South Pole is sunny. The person who took this picture was near where the sun was shining, as the shadow part of the earth is small.

S America, WinterClick to enlarge

The sun was nearly 90 degrees from the camera and the earth is half in shadow in this winter picture.

S America, SpringClick to enlarge

Here the earth is in full sun, and the camera is very close to the equator. Both the North and South poles are in partial sun, which happens with the sun over the equator in spring or fall equinox - March or September.

LM, Earth orbitClick to enlarge

The picture of the Lunar Module in Earth orbit also shows the blue atmosphere of the earth. When the picture is taken further from the earth, the atmosphere is not visible. It is a very thin shell on earth that supports our life, and can only be seen when fairly close. Of course when you are in space "up" is wherever you want it to be.

Moon, Far sideClick to enlarge

The far side of the moon is much rougher than the near side. No one would know that if someone had not orbited the moon. Evidently the earth shielded the moon from meteors on the side facing us.

Astronaut AldrinClick to enlarge

The top layer of the moon is dust, but does not cloud around. With no atmosphere, the dust falls back immediately, if not pushed hard enough to escape. Footprints do not age like they do on earth with the action of weather. There is no weather on the moon.

EarthriseClick to enlarge

The Earthrise pictures are taken with North at the top of earth. That is why the pictures show the spacecraft coming around the side of the moon.

Carl T. Cox
Dec 1, 2009